Startling news: Your parents don’t think you’re grown up just becuase you apply to college

An article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education ( – requires subscription for full text, so you may not be able to see it all, or you can try to find the study at the Journal of Family Psychology where it will likely also cost you $$ -academics are SO mercenary) cracked me up.  It announces the shocking news that most parents with children in college don’t believe their offspring have yet reached adulthood.  If this is news, my family has been WAY ahead of it’s time.  I mean, my grandmother pretty much STILL doesn’t think my dad is completely grown up, and I won’t even get into what my parents think about me (are you ever going to finish whatever it is you do and get a real job?).

At the same time, I think this gets into the common perception in the media, and it comes out A LOT in admissions evaluations, about student maturity.  The theory goes that the students of traditional age now applying to college, or 16-18 year olds, the so called Digital Natives or Millenials, think faster, adapt quicker, but are also somehow less independent and/or mature than students that came before them. This is supported by reports of parents completing applications for students, or even joining them on job interviews.  The term “helicopter parent” gets thrown around all the time, meaning a parent that hovers right around the student’s head.

Here’s another take: Students may just be more adjusted than those that came before and don’t need the kind of faux rebellion to assert their independence. They realize that college admissions is a complicated mess of red tape, and rely on the members of the family with the most experience to help them navigate.  And they are Digital Natives, so using the cell phone to text or talk or being on facebook or IM and including their parents in that discourse is just part of their daily landscape. 

So what does this mean for you, oh aspiring college applicant? Maybe it’s worth realizing that college admissions has no idea what to make of you – you confuse us, with your good relations to your parents, your ability to find out all about us without ever talking to us, and your online life of which most of us are only marginally aware.  And what confuses, scares, and what scares can lead to negativity.  So we label – ascribing helicopter status to your parents, and finding it a shock that your parents don’t consider you adults.  But these same poor misled admissions officers do get to make decisions about your future.  As a result, it might be worth thinking, as you write your essays, does this look like my mom is sending it in?  If you have a question to ask, or a concern to raise, maybe it’s worth calling or emailing yourself, rather than having your parent do so. 

Bear in mind, I don’t think there is ANYTHING wrong with having your parent call or write on your behalf, but I may be in the minority.  It may be worth your time to make sure that you leave the impression that it is you, not just your parents, that is excited and energized about an institution.

Final note  – I may say I’m not in the same group, but I can tell you one area where parental calls always seem a little odd to me.  Each year I’ll have at least a few students I denied contacting me asking that I reconsider the decision.  At least one or two of those will not be from the students themselves, but from their parents.  The parent may (and often does) even spend most of the time describing the impact of the denial ON THE PARENT, not on the student.  While I realize that parents can and should be advocates for you, if you’re really concerned odds are I’d much rather hear from you. 

Not that you’ll be denied.  I’m sure you’ll get in everywhere you apply.  So please, tell mom and dad to stop hyperventilating.  Be seeing you.


One Response

  1. my mom kept her cool through the whole process…Probably because she didn’t help me at all, haha…I think I’m in the minority there. She didn’t even read my essays! Well…So far I’ve gotten nothing but acceptance letters back- I guess it doesn’t hurt to do things on my own every once and a while. 🙂

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